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Greece curbs migrant movement in crowded camps over coronavirus

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece imposed restrictions on the movement of migrants living in overcrowded camps on islands to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the migration ministry said on Wednesday.

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Over the next 30 days, people living in camps will be allowed to temporarily exit the facilities only in small groups, every hour between 0700 and 1900 (0500-1700 GMT), in order to obtain food and supplies from nearby towns and villages.

Only one person from each family will be allowed to leave the camps.

Greece has already banned new arrivals at migrant camps since March 1. Migrants who reached its shores after that date will be transferred to the mainland in the coming days. Visitors are not allowed in either, the ministry said.

Greece has so far registered five deaths and has confirmed 387 cases of COVID-19, including one on the island of Lesbos, where the overcrowded Moria camp operates.

So far, there have been no infection cases at any of the camps, the ministry said.

“Protecting public health at any cost, for the benefit of residents on the islands and in camps, is our priority,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said.

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers are living in migrant centres at five Aegean islands.

The conservative government, which came to power in July on promises to be tougher on migration, wants to replace all existing camps on the islands with new detention centres.

Camps on the islands of Leros and Kos will be turned immediately into closed-type facilities, where entry and exit will be limited, the ministry said. The new centre on the island of Samos will be smaller in size than initially planned, it added, in order to speed up its construction.

Last week, medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) urged Greece to immediately evacuate migrants from the camps due to a high risk of the coronavirus spreading swiftly among people living in squalid conditions.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Editing by William Maclean